Llandrindod Wells is probably the best known of the chain of spa towns in Mid Wales, UK, that is followed roughly by the Heart of Wales railway line. It is known as Llandod for short.
The Romans were aware of the healing waters of the wells and there is an important archaeological Roman site close to the modern town. However, it was not until the middle of the 18th Century that any serious attempt was made to exploit the waters with a purpose built spa hotel. For a number of reasons the venture eventually failed, and it was not until the coming of the railway in 1865 that the town began to develop into what it has become today. In a very short time, due to the fad for taking the waters, the place became very popular with the gentry, and many famous names of the time would be seen in the area.
A combination of factors, including the two world wars, the Great Depression, and the popularity of seaside holidays, caused a decline in the fortunes of the town. Fortunately the setback was only temporary, and the emphasis has now switched to tourism.
The buildings in the town exude a rather Victorian sense, in some instances the phrase 'faded gentility' comes to mind. It seems very apt, then, that one of the most popular attractions is the nine-day-long Victorian festival, which takes place in the last week before the August Bank Holiday. Shop windows are dressed in a Victorian style; a visitor might surmise that many of the shops would not need to change all that much! What really makes the event, though, is the number of the local populace who dress up in Victorian costume. Staff at all of the shops in the centre of town are dressed in period, as indeed are most of the town's residents; it can come as a bit of a shock for the unprepared stranger to be greeted by Queen Victoria and her retinue whilst shopping. The finale of the festival is the torchlight procession and firework display. Townsfolk gather at either of two pubs at opposite sides of the town, and each carrying a burning torch, make their way to the lake. Street entertainers, jugglers, unicyclists et al will accompany the processions.
The procession was always intended to be fun, but walking in the procession, or even watching it, can fill one with an almost religious peace. Once the whole town is at the lake, a spectacular fireworks display is set off, to the anger of the ducks who live there.
It is now no longer possible to use the spa water from the taps in the Rock Park1. If you really want to taste the stuff, locate the stream2 that runs down into Rock Park. Make sure you have some mints or other breath freshener; the water tastes awful.